Nancy Brachey

Make the most of March in your garden

Pieris is a beautiful shrub that blooms in early spring. It prospers in a shady area.
Pieris is a beautiful shrub that blooms in early spring. It prospers in a shady area. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Even though we have been through rough weather lately, I know there are better days ahead for Piedmont gardeners.

Tomorrow we welcome March. And even though it may bring some stormy days, I still love it for the opportunity it gives to catch up and get ahead outdoors.

First of all, we get more daylight as the days grow longer and we welcome more evening light to do one chore or another. Second, the temperature on many days can be just right for digging soil softened by winter rain.

This is my way of making the argument that March ranks as one of the best times of the year for gardeners. I know you have heard me say this about October, but March is just as splendid.

Here’s why:

▪ Lots to plant. Shrubs and trees should go into the ground this month to allow some root development before the heat of summer stresses the plant. Some plants, notably camellias, do us the favor of showing their blooms through the winter. This makes choices easier, especially if you are adding to a collection and want a good range of color and form among your camellias.

▪ Opportunities to expand. Even after the brutal cold, you will soon see signs of growth at ground level, especially around chrysanthemums. They will start to grow vigorously before you put away your wool caps and gloves. This is an opportunity to dig, divide and replant them as well as Shasta daisies, asters and other hardy perennials that expand by growing outward.

▪ A time to repair. Many people possess stretches of lawn where grass-growing has proven to be futile. Late winter into early spring is a grand time to substitute evergreen ground covers for the failed fescue. It can go into the ground now and settle down quickly. More choices than you ever imagined exist. You should select based on the amount of sun or shade in that area.

▪ There’s always something new. Whether you focus on ornamental plants – shrubs, trees, annuals and perennials – or put your energy into edibles, you can find something new and different. Something new doesn’t strictly mean it was just introduced for this season; it can be new to you. Look over the wealth of plants that are in garden centers and see what intrigues you. Take a look at the various types of pieris, a wonderful evergreen shrub that is beautiful in all seasons. Consider certain old-fashioned plants such as spiraea and forsythia, which bring lovely color for a few weeks each year. Look over the seed racks and catalogs. All have something new and tempting enough to make us forget the ice, snow and cold of late winter.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I got a pretty potted hydrangea for Valentine’s Day. What should I do with it now?

A. Enjoy it while the blooms last. Keep it watered and away from direct heat. It will require regular watering to keep the leaves from wilting. Once the weather warms, in late March or early April, plant it outdoors in a lightly shaded area.

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